The Center Director's Report

The Center, now in its eighth year, has made substantial progress on its goals of providing:
  • new tools for characterizing the generation, fate and transport, source attribution, and control of combustion generated organic pollutants;


  • an entity greater than the sum of its parts, by fostering cross-fertilization between the different investigators; and


  • neutral forums for discussions on the scientific bases for some of the more contentious issues facing policy makers, by sponsoring summer symposia on tropospheric ozone, air toxics, low emission vehicles, advanced instrumentation for air quality measurements, and fine particles in the atmosphere.


The Center has successfully involved of faculty members with major collateral research on different facets of airborne organics. As principal investigators of the Center's research projects, these faculty members bring to the Center their expertise and contacts and the Center provides the integration of the different studies to address complicated issues facing the nation.


The Center continues to be effective in bringing together expertise which is distributed at three locations. Frequent exchanges of information between the Center's directors, principal investigators, the EPA project officer, and the Science Advisory Committee (SAC) take place via electronic mail and a remarkable degree of coordination has been made possible by the Internet.


The Center has been fortunate in having a very able and active Science Advisory Committee (SAC) which has worked hard to make sure the Center achieves the environmental goals for which it was established. The members of the SAC have been subdivided into the three principal program focus areas and have prepared statements on the short and long term objectives of each focus area which have been folded into the request for proposals for the Center. The SAC also wrote the specifications for format, length and information content of proposals, which is included in the request for proposals. The SAC has been particularly active in seeking opportunities for collaboration between the projects within the Center and in the development of the agenda for the summer symposia sponsored by the Center.


A strength of the Center which reflects the guidance provided by the SAC is the encouragement of redirections of activities within projects to take advantage of resources available elsewhere within the Center. Center projects lead to synergies that cross institutional and disciplinary lines. Examples are the redirection at MIT of modeling studies of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons formation in flames to include rate coefficients for reactions involving aromatic species computed at NJIT, the extension of rate coefficient calculations at NJIT to focus on the reactions of importance in smog formation studies at Caltech, and the application in soot particle studies at MIT of electrical mobility analyzer techniques developed at Caltech. At the recommendation of the SAC the projects are funded for two-year periods, so that half of the projects are terminated every year and replaced with new ones or, where justified, continued but usually with a new orientation.


The students and the principal investigators have an opportunity for direct contact once a year at the summer PI/SAC meeting held in an informal setting near Boston. Oral presentations of the different projects are included in the program and the SAC reviews the progress made in each project based on the oral presentation and the project annual report which is provided to the SAC in advance of he meeting. A written summary of the SAC's evaluation is provided to the principal investigator. This arrangement provides the Center's investigators not only critical feedback from the SAC but also opportunities to learn about each other's activities and to obtain useful suggestions on their research from other participants within the Center and other meeting attendees. At the suggestion of the SAC the meetings are organized so as to separate the functions of outreach, addressed by a summer symposium directed to the specialized community, and the principal investigators meeting bringing together the students and faculty in the Center.


The Summer Symposium, now organized by the MIT Energy Laboratory, continues the tradition, started by the Center, of orchestrating successful gatherings of representatives from industry, EPA and other government agencies, public interest groups, and acadame, to address an important scientifically intensive environmental issue with major public policy implications. The focus of this year's Summer Symposium was EPA's urban air toxics strategy. Highlights of the Symposium are presented in a report which is available from the Energy Laboratory and also on the Center's web site along with summaries of the previous Summer Symposia.


A proposal to renew the Center for one additional year was submitted to EPA in May 1999, and was approved by the end of the summer. The additional year, 16 September 2000 &endash; 15 September 2001, will be focussed on research designed to answer important questions remaining in areas in which the Center's projects have already been focussing. The work will continue to be divided into three current focus areas and to involve contributions and interactions of investigators from the three participating institutions. The Center will continue to support the Summer Symposium and to hold its annual Summer PI/SAC meeting immediately before or immediately after and at the same location as the Summer Symposium for the convenience of the SAC members and Center personnel who attend both meetings.


Since the extension of the Center is for one year the request for proposals due in November, 1999 for new projects beginning June 1, 2000 had to be modified relative to the RFP used previously, so as to focus on projects for one year instead of the usual two, while continuing to encourage the submission of a larger number of high quality proposals and proposals from young principal investigators. Following the recommendations of the SAC, these objectives were successfully achieved with the requirement of a preproposal to give early SAC feedback, followed by a proposal giving explicitly stated goals attainable in one year with pre-existing capability. Ten preproposals were received and reviewed by the SAC, and eight of these recommended for development into full proposals, which have been received and sent to the SAC for funding recommendations in its January, 2000 meeting.


This year also witnessed significant progress in fulfilling major research goals of our Center. Highlights of this progress are listed below and a brief description of each project is given later in this report.


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